Between Brisbane and Japan, some whimsy and Dan (All contents © 2013 by Dan Ryan, unless noted)

Tokyo, Shinjuku

The Devilrobots are superior gentlemen

During each of my trips to Tokyo in 2012 and 2013 to take photographs for my “Tokyo Panic Stories” project, I met up with some really wonderful people, people with whom I hope to remain friends for years to come. But during the 2013 trip, a particular treat for me was the opportunity to hang out with Shinichiro Kitai and Kotohiro Nishiyama of the Tokyo-based toy and graphic design firm Devilrobots. I have been a huge fan of the Devilrobots ever since I stumbled across their To-fu Oyako character toys on eBay in 2002. Their whimsical, anthropomorphic designs for toy figures and other colorful objects really appeal to something deep within in my senses of aesthetics and fun.

In short, and without being too gushy about it, the Devilrobots are personal heroes of mine, and their work adds a LOT of joy to my life. In fact, it’s fair to say the Devilrobots inspire me in a way that has helped me cope with my chronic depression.

I met these fine gentlemen one afternoon while they were setting up the Devilrobots “Devil Museum” retrospective and retail sale displays at the Fewmany pop-up shop in the Shinjuku Marui Annex. And the rest of the afternoon just flowed from there…

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Mr. Kotohiro Nishiyama, Koto-san, the Devilrobots’ business manager who also acts as the English translator for public events. I got to hang out with Koto-san in 2012 at the Devilrobots’ offices in Shinjuku. Here at the 2013 Fewmany shop, he showed me the “Devil Museum” and the various artifacts from Devilrobots’ 17-year history.

 

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The man himself, Mr. Shinichiro Kitai (Shin-san), the Devilrobots founder and lead designer and artist. He designed pretty much every toy and graphic element you see in these photographs. And he is as colorful, whimsical, and fun as the things he creates.

 

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A display showcasing prototypes and mock-ups of some of the very first To-fu Oyako kubrick figures designed by Shin-san and manufactured by Medicom Toy. Other items in the display utilize To-fu Oyako design elements.

 

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A closer look at some Devilrobots kubrick prototypes. Note the To-fu Oyako figure in the background shaped like a “Toy Story” alien.

 

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Koto-san pointing at a display case full of Evirob kubrick figures and small sculptures. Evirob is Shin-san’s other major character design, but the character itself is a bit odd and hard to explain, mostly because I don’t fully understand it (even though I like it).

 

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One of the neatest things on display, a mashup statue of toy designer Kenny Wong’s Molly character and Shin-san’s To-fu Oyako. I wish I could have purchased this, but I had to be scrupulous with my Kickstarter funds.

 

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Koto-san and Shin-san taking a moment to evaluate their display work. Shin-san is, as you can see, not camera-shy.

 

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A multitude of Devilrobots stickers and badges, manufactured by Facto, a Japanese design company which produces various goods for toy and graphic designers like Devilrobots.

 

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After the work was done setting up the Devilrobots “Devil Museum” shop, Koto-san and Shin-san offered to take me out for some beers. Shin-san and I waited out in the rain in front of Marui Annex while Koto-san was busy retrieving the umbrella he had forgotten inside the building.

 

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We made our way to joint called 82 Ale House in Shinjuku 3-chome. After Shin-san bought the first round of pints, he was kind enough to autograph some Devilrobots items I had with me. Here he’s inscribing a booklet he designed for a CD by an excellent J-pop band called Tokimeki Express.

 

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Beers, smokes, peanuts, and a signed hand-decorated To-fu Oyako kubrick on a greasy bar table. To me this is one version of heaven.

 

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As I noted earlier, Shin-san is not camera-shy.

 

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Despite having to translate between me and Shin-san, Koto-san was able to relax.

 

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I felt so honored that these busy guys…

 

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…took the time to hang out with me.

 

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The list of things for which I am a gushing fanboy is very, very short, but the Devilrobots’ design work and these two superior gentlemen are certainly on it. One of the greatest open secrets about the Japanese is that they are very warm, big-hearted people if you make the effort to get socially close them. Shin-san and Koto-san are two perfect examples of this. I really treasured their company that rainy afternoon in Shinjuku, and I hope they enjoyed mine.

And I can’t thank these two gents enough for their warmth, hospitality, and generosity. Take care, boys, and I hope to see you the next time I’m in Tokyo.

–Dan Ryan, Brisbane, California, July 22nd 2014.

Post script: On my birthday this past January, Shin-san created this digital birthday card and posted it on my Facebook wall, convincing me that he is even more of a big-hearted mensch than I already thought he was…

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(Photographs taken at Marui Annex and 82 Ale House, Shinjuku, Tokyo in October, 2013)

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My Former Hanami—A small handful of grace

I walked from Nakano to Shinjuku alone

but

I was never really alone or ever am.

The city was with me.

A god-pigeon was with me.

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We watched hanami pass into hanafubuki,

as the city shook the petals loose.

I took them from the ground,

petals like silken snow

falling on harsh pavements and concrete.

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Enjoy hanafubuki.

It can be just as beautiful as hanami.

There are patterns to all of it,

everything has a place randomly assigned.

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As I stood there at Kandagawa,

my hand full of Tokyo’s grace,

I looked nearby to the street,

and saw

the post-hanami trash had it’s own kind of beautiful pattern too.

(Pictures taken near the intersection of Otakibashi-dori and the Kanda River (Kandagawa) in April, 2012)

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Fatigue Under Construction—A small rest

I had a finished poem written about this photo, and what might be going through this man’s head. It started with the line “I am stranded in my own blood” and got weird after that. But I scrapped it because I don’t think words can entirely convey how cosmically tired this fellow looked. He looked tired in a way that didn’t suggest utter defeat, but also didn’t suggest he was on an upswing. The kind of tired where you just have to sit quietly for a bit and take the time to consider which limb to move next, which finger to flick. The kind of tired that emanates from you so perceptibly that some schmuck standing near you only long enough to snap a few pictures of you can feel it.

That kind of tired.

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(Picture taken on the west side of Shinjuku Station in September, 2013)

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Rain Passing—A small reminisce

It is raining today in Brisbane, California.

I like to call it a fine Tokyo rain.

Because Tokyo taught me

to love the space between the drops and

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to love the dirt-city vistas beyond the falling curtains and

to love the rain like it was my mother

who would never dissolve me like sugars to run down

the gutters to sweeten the trash for the sewer rats.

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(Pictures taken in Shinjuku, Tokyo in October, 2013. Published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)

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Shinjuku Pensive—A small crossing

It was a warm, sunny day in Shinjuku, and I was on my way to meet a friend at Kinokuniya. As I was waiting to cross Shinjuku Dori, I noticed this thoughtful-looking fellow next to me. For the five or six heartbeats I was near him before the pedestrian light turned green, I thought he looked like the smartest man in the world.

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(Picture taken in Shinjuku 3-chome in September, 2013)

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You May Find Typos—A small book of short stories

So I have compiled a book of the short stories I have written in the last four years. It is available as  Kindle book from Amazon. Here’s is how I have described it:

These eight very short stories, written between January, 2010 and October, 2013, run the gamut from a simple tale of friendship in a Tokyo bar (“Kamiya Bar”) to the horrors in the mind of a warped Japanese family man (“The Water and Plum Dream”). In between are tales of detective work, teleportation, alcoholism, Wyatt Earp, and a sequel to the movie classic “Blade Runner”. Short but bittersweet, “Kamiya Bar and other stories” won’t take long to read, but will have you thinking for some time afterward.

Interested? Okay, then click on the image of the cover below, and get yourself a quick but thought-provoking read….

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Brisbane Artist Panic Story—A small video compilation

Tomorrow night (January 25th, 2014 for those of you reading this after the fact) I am appearing for the third year in a row at Brisbane’s annual Artists Evening of Sharing. I’ll be showing a video montage of images I took in September and October of last year for my “Tokyo Panic Stories” project. I’m pleased with this video, so please have a look and leave a comment below if you care to to let me know what you think…

Set this to 720p HD and full screen for the best viewing experience.

 

As an additional bonus, I’ve compiled the videos I shot last year in Tokyo for your viewing pleasure. They’re not of the highest quality, and they don’t have any big revelatory importance. They’re just short slices of motion and sound that I managed to capture during some long, hot days when I was in Tokyo and life was good. Because Tokyo will always be a home and haven for me…

Tokyo caught heavy rains in September and October from vicious typhoons in southern Japan.

 

Near the Life store in Nakano, a fishmonger displays cute but dead-eyed wares.

 

A quiet time, when Sanya’s skid row hangovers are just ending or just starting.

 

For the first time, I felt like a champion-genius of navigating Shinjuku Station.

 

Thanks for having a look. I intend to do more videos in the future. Probably. I think.

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Tokyo, With Friends—A small thanks

Tomorrow is the Thanksgiving holiday here in America. It’s already upon my American friends in Japan. While I have some regrets (of the life-long variety), I have had a lot to be thankful for in the last 12 months. In particular, I am thankful that I was able to successfully fund a Kickstarter project which enabled me to return to Tokyo in September and October this year to continue my Tokyo Panic Stories work. And while I was in Tokyo, I was able to get together with some guys I already knew, and meet some new fellows with whom I hope to be friends in years to come.

I don’t have a hell of a lot of friends, and I don’t make them easily. This post is my way of thanking these fine gents for their company and warmth. Cheers, boys…

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@billyj41

 

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@jljzen

 

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@geekpondering, @Tokyo_Tom, and @warpedgaijin

(Unfortunately not pictured because of beer and poor focusing ability, @gullevek and @tokyorich)

 

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@kengtwo

 

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@tokyotimes

 

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@ourmaninabiko

 

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@Durf

 

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@loveartblues

(Pictures taken in Ameyayokocho, Ueno Park, Nakano, Nihonzutsumi, Shinjuku, and Kamiya Bar Tokyo in September and October, 2013)

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Zesty Window Shopping—A small largeness

I didn’t get much sex in Tokyo this year. That is to say, unlike the risqué series of photos I took last year , in 2013 I think I unconsciously decided there were things I wanted to include in my photographic Tokyo explorations other than additional copious evidence of the unabashed Japanese attitude toward retail sexual entertainments. But when I passed this window one sunny September day in Shinjuku, well, I just had to marvel at these sizes and imaginative shapes…

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(Picture taken in Kabukichō, Shinjuku, Tokyo on September 20th, 2013)

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Shinjuku Man—A small glimpse

I passed though Shinjuku several times in September, and once in October. At a particular exit from Shinjuku Station, this man was always there. I don’t know his story, but his life seemed less that perfect. And still people passed him by…

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(Picture taken at the east end of Shinjuku Station on October 5th, 2013)

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A Raven Of Shinjuku—A small flight

The man was dapper and having a rest while feeding a multitude of birds, not far from Kinokuniya in Shinjuku.

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One of the birds included this huge damn raven…

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…which didn’t have time to nevermore linger.

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(Pictures taken in Shinjuku, Tokyo on September 24th, 2013)

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He Comes In Colors—A small walking rainbow

On the streets of Shinjuku today, a character of unknown disposition, purpose, or origin. But pretty damned colorful and determined-looking…

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(Picture taken in Tokyo on September 24th, 2013)

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The Kabukichō Nap—A small unknown substance

You could see he was breathing, and there wasn’t any blood on the ground. Maybe someone drugged the rice at his feet.

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A minute or so later he moved his hand to his face and scratched, providing further proof of life. Maybe not a happy life, though.

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A man this young and fucked-up at midday is an unusual sight even in Kabukichō.  Fortunately he was in a high-traffic area for passersby, who left him to sleep it off.

(Pictures taken in Shinjuku, Tokyo on September 20th, 2013)

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Happiness Time—A small excursion

Ahhh,

the sun

of a thousand galaxies,

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and it’s all

shining down here

on…me.

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(Pictures taken on Waseda Dori somewhere around Ochiai, I think, on April 13th, 2012. I had been very sick for nearly the entire first two weeks I was in Tokyo. Some kind of lung infection, which I later learned I probably brought with me from California or contracted on the plane as I flew to Japan. On this day, still suffering from a fever and horrible coughing fits, I decided I had to get the hell out of my apartment and do something. So I packed up my cameras, picked a direction, and started walking. I started at Nakano Broadway, and ended up at Shinjuku Station, shooting pictures of basically anything along the way.

It was a good walk. It was a good day to be alive and in Tokyo, and I fully recovered about a day later.)

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I’m Afraid Of Americans—A small thanks

It is a cliché of great truth: In Tokyo, one of the most crowded and kinetically frenzied cities on Earth, it is easy to be alone. I spent a lot of time alone in Tokyo in 2012—in my apartment, in restaurants, and in seedier parts of the city—during the five weeks in April and May when I was there working on a forthcoming book of photographs and prose. Fortunately, on a handful of occasions I accepted invitations to eat and drink with “gaijin”, mostly Americans, who knew me through Twitter and my heavy involvement with the 2011 Quakebook project.

I don’t make friends easily. I never have. I’m a natural, almost pathological, loner. But I was lucky enough to meet the good people in these pictures and click with each of them in some way. And I have stayed in touch with all these folks through social networks since I got back from Tokyo. I hope that continues for a long, long time. And to the people in my pictures I say: Thanks for making my 2012 trip to Tokyo such a splendid thing.

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@Durf, at this amazing restaurant in Shinjuku owned by his lovely in-laws. Go for the squid.

 

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@tokyotimes, moving smoothly through Asakusa. Read more about him here.

 

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@billyj41, a man’s man and a great drinking companion, at Kamiya Bar in Asakusa.

 

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@loveartblues, an elegant guy wisely taking a break from the ocean of beer at Kamiya Bar.

 

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@kuripyon, the smartest punk-rock-and-roll-engineering chick I’ve ever met. Kamiya Bar.

 

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@warpedgaijin, a young man, but worldly-wise. At the Roppongi Hobgoblin.

 

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@jakeadelstein at the Roppongi Hobgoblin. He wrote a book called Tokyo Vice. Heard of it?

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I met five other people in Tokyo, including this dear friend, but didn’t take their individual pictures. I’m sorry for that, and I hope to correct that mistake the next time we meet in Japan.

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In The Grainy Subway—A small person

She was small.

She was alone.

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People passed by, and she just kept dialing the phone.

And I loved her.

I could have jumped from my train,

across the oncoming Shinjuku subway tracks,

and asked her to have soba noodles and cold beer with me

until it was time for breakfast in Tsukiji.

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(I’m very fond of this image of a lady little person on the platform at Shinjuku Station. I published it here back in April. The conditions under which I took this photo were horrible. So even though I think it works, I apologize if this picture looks more like a crummy stippled photo-realistic painting instead of a proper photograph. No matter, even at the picture’s full size and grainy, this small woman is one of the most beautiful sights I ever saw in Japan.—Dan)

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Memories Of Green—A small Tokyo tour

Sometimes Tokyo is the cigarette you toss

into an ashtray full of garbage and water.

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Sometimes Tokyo is the restaurant

you pass by every day but never go in.

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Sometimes Tokyo is toys you see in a school display

while walking from Nakano Station to Shinjuku.

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(Pictures taken in Nakano-ku and Shinjuku-ku in April, 2012.)

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Tokyo Face Time—A small pair of encounters

Part One:

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Mulling over the choices I’ve made in life

what it basically comes down to is:

I just happened to look into your camera

while you thought you secretly took a picture of me.

Then we pass each other

on this street in Shinjuku right after the death of all cherry blossoms

and we don’t speak and

we don’t ever see each other again…

Part Two:

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I walk like a champion

because this street is mine.

This tree I pass every day

is planted in earth which was once soaked

with the innovative blood of my ancestors

who died here keeping the secrets of Velcro

from the Shogun’s tax collectors.

We are an old clan,

we never married burakumin

like those butchers over in Sanya.

We are a proud clan,

and you need to keep out of my way.

(Photos taken on Otakibashi-dori in Shinjuku, Tokyo in April, 2012)

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Kotohiro Nishiyama Of Devilrobots Is Just The Nicest Man—A small to-fu adventure

I am midway between 48 and 49 and still enchanted with and charmed by toys. I suppose in a perfect world I would be over my love of toys by now. But I don’t want to live in that world.

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Happiness is where you find it, even it it’s in a bit of plastic or vinyl molded to look like a non-existent creature. And when it comes to such toys, my greatest admiration is for the weird, whimsical and very Japanese toys designed by my personal heroes, the Devilrobots.

I just love their stuff. I have quite a bit of it here at the house, though modesty forbids posting pictures lest it be considered a vulgar display. I’ve been a fan for about 10 years, but Devilrobots have been around since 1997. I can’t quite remember exactly how I stumbled upon the toys and trinkets they design. But I do remember making a conscious effort to meet up with my heroes when I was in Tokyo in April and part of May this year. And, lucky me, on May 3rd, 2012 I got to travel to Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward and have a look inside the creative world of a small group of geniuses.

And I’d like to share that world with you. So have a look, and enjoy.

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My host, Kotohiro Nishiyama, is really just the nicest man. That’s him in the picture below. Due to scheduling conflicts, Koto-san was the only team member who was able to meet me and let me look around Devilrobots’ headquarters. And he didn’t just meet me at the office like anyone else might have. He met me in the rain at Kagurazaka Station on the Tōzai Line and guided me to the Devilrobots’ building near Edogawabashi. He was such a gentleman, letting me wander around as I wished while he did some work in his office. And at one point we sat for a good spell at the Devilrobots’ coffee table (pictured later) and had some cigarettes and talked of toys and the time we both spent in Minnesota and some silly things I don’t exactly recall. His company was delightful and his hospitality was wonderfully generous. And he’d never even met me before.

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After meeting Koto-san, well I went a little nuts and took pictures of almost everything I saw. And it started with this To-fu Oyako display right outside the Devilrobots’ front entrance.

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Detail from the previous photo.

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A beautiful assortment of wonderful characters greets you when you enter Devilrobots.

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The reception area and lounge. No receptionist nor sign-in book here.

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Marshmallow princess Maffy, my wife’s favorite character. This is to the right as you enter the Devilrobots’ front door.

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The fully-loaded shelves of toys in the Devilrobots’ lounge will blow your mind.

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And on the floor, there are Japanese-style To-fu Oyako slot machines.

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Devilrobots have designed a whole menagerie of vinyl creatures and characters. The pink figure in the center is a To-fu Oyako x Gloomy Bear mashup.

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A crazy-wonderful Devilrobots version of Mickey Mouse.

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The entrance foyer, because I forgot to show this previously. Sorry. I got distracted.

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The Devilrobots’ Jedi coffee and meeting table.

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Just a trinket on the table which Koto-san showed me.

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A prototype for the new To-fu Oyako color vinyl figure series.

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To-fu vinyl and ice water await patiently for attention and consumption.

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The two great Devilrobots characters, To-fu Oyako and Evirob, in vinyl on the table.

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Koto-san and I, we had a few cigarettes together when I took a couple of breaks from taking pictures.

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Koto-san looks a little like a Japanese Abraham Lincoln.

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And except for the unhappy expression, this hirsute to-fu sculpture kind of looks like Koto-san.

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To-fu Oyako happy figure madness.

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To-fu Oyako “Toy Story” UFO catcher alien.

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Devilrobot’s Medicom Toy 100% Be@rbricks. These are kind of rare. I’m lucky to have all three (the first one is the same as the third, but showing the back of the head.)

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There is whimsy at every turn where the Devilrobots live.

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In a snow globe of his own, lonely Kiiro-chan.

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400% be@rbricks and other figures. Does the one on the left look familiar?

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A prestigious award that lead designer Shinichiro Kitai won with his To-fu Oyako character in a design competition before founding Devilrobots in 1997. I would have met Shin-san but for the scheduling conflicts, both his and mine but mostly mine, mentioned earlier. I regret this missed opportunity, but I hope to compensate by meeting Shin-san the next time I’m in Tokyo.

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Well, that’s it.

I shot a hell of a lot more photos than the ones you’ve just seen. But even the internet can only hold so much data. So I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour and commentary about my wonderful time visiting the Devilrobots.

(And Koto-san, from me to you I say thanks. Meeting up with you that afternoon in Shinjuku was one of the happiest experiences I’ve had in Japan.)

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The Slow Speed Of Light—A small crossing

In Tokyo, things move and change. The light is its own ghost, never knowing where to go or haunt or which shadows to vanquish. The people have a more adjusted purpose, and look where the light takes them.

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In Shinjuku, things move and change. You never see the same people twice, or at least never see them in the same light. The light is one of Tokyo’s special wards. It is its own place to be and live, and it moves with you and against you. But it is ever with you.

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Near Yotsuya San-chome Station, things move and change. But for a moment the people disappear and the light is free to fully show you what the people left behind. It isn’t that spectacular in some ways. But in the brightness of the early night it could be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.

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(Pictures taken in Yotsuya San-chome, Tokyo in April, 2012)

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And There She Was—A small encounter

On my last day in Tokyo, I encountered this extraordinary-looking woman in Shinjuku Station on the Narita Express train platform. Turns out she and her husband were Americans, going home to New York City after 10 days in Japan.

I asked her “Is this a punk-rock thing, a cosplay thing, an art thing, or just your thing?”

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While very graciously allowing me to take her picture, she explained that this was a personal thing, a look she had carefully considered and crafted with a dear female friend from Sweden who has the identical appearance configuration, only in bright green. She said she’s not into cosplay, and gets tired trying to explain that to people.

“That,” I said to her, “Is the most remarkable look. You have kind of a Predator thing going on. And you are also a very pretty woman.”

She laughed at the Predator reference, and thanked me for the compliment. Then the train arrived and we parted ways to the cars in which we had reserved seats.

Later, at Narita Airport, I saw her and her husband boarding a United flight to Newark. The woman and I smiled at each other and waved. An hour later, I boarded a United flight to San Francisco.

Then I left Japan.

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The Petals—A small sensation

I walked east from my lodgings in Nakano, Tokyo last Friday. I had been sick for some days with a bronchial infection. Not the way I wanted to spend much time here. But there is time. It suspends itself in Tokyo and waits for you.

So when I walked, I ended up at a section of the Kandagawa River. It was an explosion there, of pink in the breeze. I inhaled the color and the sound.

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And the things on the ground, the petals, they were like the bits of ticker tape from an alternate reality, the one where we threw the world’s largest parade because the Japanese were the first to land on the moon.

The petals, I had to touch them.

And I’m glad I did. To have them in my hand, they were soft and dying and wonderful. They blew slowly out of my palm. They felt like broken silk.

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(Pictures taken near the intersection of Otakibashi-dori and the Kanda River (Kandagawa) in on April 13th, 2012)

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The 1988 Tokyo Super Bowl—A small memoir of a life in sport

Updated on January 28th, 2014

I fondly remember, mostly, the 1988 Super Bowl. I called in sick to my office in Shibuya, and secured a 750ml bottle of white tequila and a two-liter jug of Diet Coke. I don’t remember what teams played that day, but I had the game on my TV with the SAP decoder giving me the American color commentary. So, for hours that morning my little apartment in Yushima was a haven of boozed up football stupidness.

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(▲I lived at AD. Homes, #402, 3-28-18 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku Tokyo 113. Note the H.R. Giger poster on the wall. I still have it.)

 

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(As of September, 2013, my old building ▲ was still there, right next to Yushima Tenjin.)

I was an American, damn it, watching an American thing, getting pissed on imported booze and American soda pop. It almost made me homesick. I had one of those TV magnifiers back then. I remember zooming in on the instant replays until the TV screen looked like housefly vision. I mixed the whole 2 liters of Diet Coke with almost all of the tequila that morning. I was a chemical disgrace. When the game was over, I watched a Japanese tape of R.E.M. videos for awhile (I still own the tape). And then the booze was gone, and that’s when I decided to go out. I planned to only go to the beer machines nearby to buy some Asahi Super Dry. Maybe a jug of Kirin with the plastic dragon head spout. I loved those things.

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(▲The TV magnifier was a Fresnel lens. I loved mine. It made “Blade Runner” look very interesting.)

Somehow, though, I ended up in Shinjuku, in a bar near Golden Gai. Or maybe it was in Kabukichō. I think it was a retired salaryman bar, actually. A tout led me there. It might have been a gay bar as well, because all the men in the place were definitely looking me over. I was the only gaijin there. Anyway, after awhile I grew tired being there, even though I was at a table with old salarymen who were buying me beers. To this day I remember how they gave me the creeps. So, I politely said thanks and goodbye to these men and left. But of course I was more pissed off my ass then ever. And so I did the next logical thing: I went shopping for a CD player at Marui. I didn’t need a CD player, but I went shopping anyway. By this time it was two in the afternoon.

This was all happening on a Monday. I was so drunk I knew I wouldn’t be able to show up for work the next day. Anyway, with my drunken, broken Japanese I ended up buying a $600 Nakamichi CD changer from a nice salesgirl. Hope her commission was good. I vaguely recall it was to be delivered from new stock on Tuesday of the following week. I put the CD player on my American credit card.

Somehow, I don’t know how, I ended up back in Yushima by about 5 that evening. I think I made a side trip to Kamiya Bar in Asakusa. I think. But if I did I have no clear memories of it.

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(▲Kamiya Bar in Asakusa in October, 2013. My 1988 memories of the bar’s exterior are a lot more fuzzy than the clear image you see here.)

I stocked up on cold two-liter jugs of Asahi and Sapporo from the beer machines near my Yushima Station exit before I finally went home. When I got there, I had maybe three small glasses of beer before passing out around eight. I didn’t wake up until ten the next morning. As expected, I had a massive hangover. I also had no idea who won the Super Bowl. But I had lots of yummy beer and was too much of a mess to go to work. So I called my American boss to tell him I was still sick, then I packed the beer into a cloth bag and wandered over to Ueno Park around lunch time. I had cold beers in the winter sun that afternoon.

I remember loving that Tuesday. I was free and a single man and starting the second year of my great Japanese adventure. I was pure joy. That was one of my best afternoons in Tokyo.

The next day, Wednesday, I went back to work in pretty good shape. And I realized I didn’t need the Nakamichi CD player, that I had bought it in a stupid drunken fugue state. The exchange rate on the purchase with my American credit card would be insane!! So, I asked one of the Japanese secretaries to call Marui and cancel the purchase. She did it, and there was no problem.

From what I remember now, that Super Bowl Monday and the Tuesday that followed had been pretty good days. And although I still think the Shinjuku bar I ended up in was a gay bar, I was, for whatever ulterior reasons may have existed, treated with kindness and free beer.

And really, when you’re drunk off your ass in Tokyo there really isn’t anything better for which to ask.

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Tokyo in the Underbrush—A small, old poet-O-graphical portfolio

Author’s Note: I published this old work of mine as an Amazon Kindle eBook in May, 2012. If you like the photos and poems you are about to see and read, well now you can own a copy. Just click here. –Dan Ryan, Brisbane, California, February 2014

Introduction

If I had read the instructions more clearly, these photographs would have gotten me into the photography program at the Yale University School of Art. But, like an idiot, I submitted this portfolio in print form rather than on 35mm slides as was required. Anyway, long story short: I didn’t get into Yale, though I did come close. Damned instructions.

Anyway, what you are about to read and view are poems and photographs I created while living in Tokyo in 1987 and 1988. The words were not specifically written for the images, but I paired each piece of text with each photo as a kind of experiment which I thought ended up working. You will note that all the photos are of Japanese drunks and homeless people. I was not on a social crusade, as I might be today. I was merely out to document an aspect of Japanese society which I could not believe existed. And it still exists, as my wife and I discovered during our trip to Tokyo in 2008. There are still tons of dispossessed in Ueno Park, for example.

The words and images are presented pretty much the same as they were 22 years ago. I have formatted the poems to flow more like straight prose, as they seem to read pretty well that way and it saves me some space here on the internet. And please keep in mind that while I make no apologies for the quality of the poetry (I am actually still quite pleased with some of it), these words were written by a man less than half the age of his current 47 years.

So there it is. Please take your time and enjoy. (And please note that each photo is paired with the text beneath it, and the location and date for each photo is directly beneath the image.)

—Dan Ryan, Brisbane, CA, January, 2011

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Bagman-san—Except from a diary….

Last evening, I saw the first “crazy-dude-shouting-at-the–top-of-his-voice-to-no-one” that I’ve seen in Japan. It was while I was walking through Roppongi. I have only been here for a week and some days. If it had been New York, this guy probably would have been my average cabbie. Or a Druze militiaman. The Japanese businessman I was walking near laughed at the guy, who was indeed shouting like Renfield with a razor. I smiled, wishing I new enough Japanese to grin and say “Yeah, we have crazy people in America too.” The moment was funny.

I saw my first Japanese bagman the next day. He had chest-length hair uniformly around his head. I could not see his eyes. He sported a dirty coat and some trendily-labeled shopping bags full of trash, or what I thought was trash. His long, glistening hair was eminently noticeable in the early work-day commuting crowd.

The sight of these two men shattered my view of Japan as the ultimate socially-restrained society, one which keeps all members within prescribed societal behavior parameters. I never thought I’d see a bagperson in, Japan. Even the most finely woven silk has a frayed edge somewhere.

Maybe being a bagman is a form of rebellion. Or an honorable profession.

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Akihabara—May, 1988▲

Humor of the ‘surd

When you stare straight ahead, people love you. They use that stare as a guide rope to the smooth underside of a city. Then they talk to the loops of themselves, whipping about their hair to combine, crashing, at the bus stop.

And they can fill their cold capsules with beer. Large beer capsules, to claim they are no longer the child who loved Star Wars.

People who seem to breathe when they should not. They exhale and breathe more, and soon the mixture is not air. One can see through it, yet it blocks the pores like a bad handshake.

Some say there are valleys because mountains trip and fall. Or, proportionately, there are potholes.

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Ueno Station—May, 1988▲

A bruised and side-tracked equinox

My body is hot, though my brain won’t feel it. Hot nerve flashes scale like firemen up my neck gathering to swim where my jellied thoughts collect.

I trip the crust of the curb. A fine Goodyear necklace forms the halo for the ghosts of my hands, I dream. In the way my toes wriggle, there is the hint of the prehensile, of the old way of walking.

I think of all those grimy seasons, the sun singing “I am the Queen of Anonymity” to me. Hard luck pressed to bad. The cowboys are weeping tonight between some snowflakes and the blue Ueno fog.

These manholes are the holes in the lute of Earth. My heat, xenophobes killing xenomorphs. There is a tangible future; I know others will be born.

And for them, heaven should be renamed.

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Ueno Station—May, 1988▲

Varmint Burgundy

Cool metal. Bent metal aluminum siding. Shiny, warped, and reflecting the street beacon in the shape of a 6. Metal warped with head impressions; perhaps the heads were Cambodian. The Cambodians of Rio, where I have lived for many years. They learned from Pol Pot to take small bites, as people do on T.V.

So come those crushed in my crackers, denting my house, those green in the salad of the Earth. I pray to some monochrome muddy that I do not go to the moon and marry.

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Akihabara Station—June, 1988▲

When one feels low, go where the low go

At times, I must lean against the refrigerator and think. That is all, and whether boiling bleach makes chlorine gas, I wonder. I have too many bugs, too much video tape. And a mass in my mean body that takes a protectorate form. For once, this grunt of a wicked rainbow makes you laugh.

What else; the clock and what it represents do not impress me. Just as time is rubber, so are intentions. The way today’s rain falls sounds as if the earth was frying.

And it makes some think the lives we make are fit sculpture for some men’s lavatory. Weeks of wood can not build this, or centuries of fire burn it. So I disagree, but not so hot, or feeble, to faze a sternly casual method. I should leave them, perhaps you, to “When something wants to eat something, What does it do?”

An eye drifting from the TV to the wallpaper told me about this. And more, of your earth-son domus and shamed elastic, and changing the channel with a brick.

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Mikimoto Rat (Keiseiueno)—June, 1988▲

Venison Love

You call me dear. Is this because you love me? Or, have I misspelled it? Do you view me just really as meat? A 6-point prize to be hunted?

Shot? Skinned? Bonnet-slung?

Dressed up and….eaten?

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Ueno Park—June, 1988▲

Pyants

“Organic lifelessness refracts light” to an old man coughing lovely luminous vapor trails in the park. He tells this to a pretty woman, who, in the process of describing trousers as “pyants,” does not listen to him.

He coughs up the nervous laugh of the aged, dumps his head upon his duffle and sleeps. Distantly, there ring slide guitar chords made using a finger inserted in a hip-flask bottle.

They sing.

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Ueno Park—August, 1988▲

Terrible Clichés

If there were cocaine in the Bisquick, do you think we’d live better lives? Really? Let us be intelligent about this; let’s pretend we’ve read Newton’s Principia. Sometimes, you, well, maybe not, however, you know, I feel like crying.

I’ll run my fingers through my hair and wish it was yours. Yet you wonder if the sun will be brilliant tonight. You wonder if your gun is loaded. And you wonder if the cat’s water dish is full.

I haven’t read much since college. Yet, I’ve read enough prostitute cards in smog-coffin Tokyo phone booths to know: love’s harbinger, lust, is alive and welcome if you’ve an 80-minute coffee break. But, there are certain things you care nothing about. There are certain things I object to. Why are they the same things?

Tomorrow, if my love hits you between the eyes, don’t say “Love hit me between the eyes.” It’s a terrible cliché.

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Okachimachi—August  1988▲

Quietly sinking with the Japanese sun (written in Kamiya Bar, Asakusa)

Some electrolytic brandy, and the brain’s synapses change and lose voltage, like a battery, sparking of its own chemical volition. We change this way, and we squeak.

Remember, John Wayne proclaimed some liquids unfit for the young. Here, an older crowd; here, a louder loud. Boot tips, and teeth grinding the edge of some brandy glass.

When poured, brandy has its own inertia. This is a fact. This is a physical law. Yet, why need the real be basis for delusions? Or impressions? Like ball-point lines. Or bad Polaroids, fading in the street, matching road shade, road texture. Yet, sitting in this pit any room you climb up into seems infinite, no matter its size.

Here, cigarettes burn down, strand by strand, their flames scorching lengths of RNA. I could be other places, to be warm and alone; perhaps the street.

I am cold, reading utopian literature, in a long, cylindrical chamber A cold chamber, heating slowly. I think it is the barrel of a gun. Once more, I sip brandy.

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Sanya—July, 1988▲

The grade-Z cast of thousands

Pride, diplomacy; they are not wasted in empty wheat fields. Out there. It’s where the bearded winds sing the slalom music, the careening scherzo of life. Upon such music: a spirit.

The Melancholy Marabou Stork. He airlifts sadness so sweet, it leaves sugar burns with the tongue. From the tongue it takes words, leaving them scattered at the toes to dry with other empty wheat husks.

With each monolog a husk pyre forms, until the night. Then, a match applied warms the cool, hard soul ‘til next morning.

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Sanya—August, 1988▲

On an Alabama road in the dead of 10 a.m.

The sun bakes the wetness in my eyes into a sugary dome that I saw Julia Child put upon a dessert once. It is a natural contact lens I peel off with a paring knife when I am not dodging meteors.

I look at the backs of my hands; they contain charred fleshy nexuses, like I was Christ-vampire-incarnate crucified with spikes of sunlight. At the tip of my tongue, some velcro, which I use to strip the petals from a bluebonnet.

It is the free slope of the morning; the point from which the day’s time curves down Einstein’s extended index. The point from which discreet time quanta will add up to the point of the next morning on a hill several miles from here.

Far. In a county named after a dog, where each blade of grass is registered in the county seat, as the officials have precious little else to do.

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Sanya Market—July, 1988▲

The Unpublished Poets of Tokyo

The unpublished poets bend in the breeze; reeds in a pond. Ducks eat them. Bigger things eat the ducks. The poets mildew in the canyons of Tokyo, where crows bleached in soot whitewash dying brambles.

Is brambles the correct word? The unpublished poets take the dictionaries from beneath their oily heads, street pillows, and page … xenophobia, autodidact, ah, here … yes. The poets eat the bones of their procrustean kin.

Others, too, have stopped by. Poets toothpick their pens, flicking bones, and write sloppy words to Japan’s shoeleather orchestra. It is no symphony; it’s a water ballet.

The unpublished poets tread water all day.

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Drunk in Sanya—August, 1988▲

Alleys are homes to our greatest unknowns

My flesh is parched and broken from the cigarette I put out in my palm. It was curious to’ve done such a thing, I know; but for agony, alleys are best. To scream in, to sit in, and chew the bubble-gum bits before gangrene sets in.

This, then, is concrete, polished with dust. A banquet of oil and rubber beneath my shoes. Fitting food for my king of the feast, who can afford to die slowly as cancer’s camp ground yet cannot afford an ashtray.

A creamy socket of lymph stares at me like an eyeball in the bishop’s stigmata. Twenty meters from the curb. There, walk-and-pass women walk and pass, themselves nude in the eyes of the men with the rabbit-skull cuff links

There, sun. Rising, spreading Sunday’s hungover glow. From school, I remember the plane preposition test as a jet passes above. flying from that cloud to another. Planes jot the sky’s water vapor island.

Day #8576. Wakeup. I wonder if I can step on every crack when I walk downtown home.

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Shinjuku—September, 1988▲

A strange, provocative solution (excerpt from a diary)

If more people lived in the street, there would be fewer street people; because an increased number of persons inhabiting the street would create a climate in which street residence would be more acceptable, by virtue of its prevalence.

Therefore, there would be less of a stigma attached to being a street person. Gradually, it would become acceptable; gradually, there would be fewer ‘street people’ in the negative, social commentary sense because living in the street would be no more objectionable than living in the suburbs.

People will always be a mélange of jerks, geniuses and slick pederasts; but if more of us live in the street, we can, by virtue of making an unacceptable situation acceptable, solve a great social malaise.

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Shinjuku Sidewalk—September, 1988▲

The discreet rainbow lady

Teeth, and beige silk, molded into fine oriental dentures. Such things are worn by women who snore. She’s one; my Bencliffia. A saltpeter heiress. Controller, mixer of disconcerted realities, she’ll say “The beginning and end product’re cheap; it’s their transition that’s expensive.”

Silver eyed; onyx irised. She moves the way liquid in a shaking bottle sounds. “They are a noise, they are one life,” She says, as she moves. She says and she moves a lot.

Almost never in unison, though.

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Sanya—October, 1988▲

Solitude

Edgar Allen Poe is dead and I don’t have the energy to danse like the bones of Christ along the power lines at dawn. Not like I used to.

No one could plant a bullet, as I have, only to see roots of red attack squirrels as the plant matured. Seems Mars is for rent. I’m going. I’d like a room with a view for once. All that …. red soil.

No need to cover the wounds of the dead. So, there are no cheaper imitations of plastic, are there? Let it speak for itself. I can’t; I have splinters on my tongue from talking to trees too long.

This breeze is good. So good. It penetrates every molecule, for there is no blood to block it.

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Ueno Park—October, 1988▲

Wino Christmas

We can chew on the bread of a Yakuza wife and become parodies of our own physiognomy. Like prisoners at Corsica we may spend our leisure converting rural tools for urban wilderness.

Perhaps you’ve found waters of coveted rivers refreshing. Such liquids make us ill. We prefer whiskey, for a spinal block. We are the phantoms of language who spurn the dance of the affected poseurs in subway clothing ads.

To wit, we are greasy freedom in tune with the beagle years. We spew walrus, and we use you and that makes us feel ok.

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Sanya—October, 1988▲

Blade Runner Tuesday

The sweet fibers of the beer that ails me. The mask of the face that kills me. At war with god, the tequila oak leaves kiss me. Biting a macaroon, the tight fangs who know I goad next week’s hounds smile in the weeds with the intelligence of those who don’t comprehend stupidity. I grip the hands of the Sanskrit poets who wrote me.

To ask god for greatness is to blame another for failure. The woof of the flame, it taunts me. I smile there, through the library of the dead. Mozart’s skull, I…. a brouhaha and a homily.

The cold cotton pits that jail me. I attend the three-fold mass for the gods of the rainy bus-stop. I wear those cellophane clothes; they never fit me. On these frequent days, I sip bombast cocktails and elude great ideas.

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Asakusa (near Kamiya Bar)—September, 1988▲

Greta Garbo

There is a ring on my hand. It is made of Strontium 90 because I am anti-social.

Most people do not interest me, most contacts do not arouse me. But, for you, the ring is tragic; it dissolves my hands, the ones I once did, and still long to, touch you with.

It is a price, the glow, that is too high for me to stop paying now.

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King Subway (Tokyo Station)—October, 1988▲

Vampire

Walk. Walk amongst the people. Make no sound as you walk.

Walk light, step bright and ghostly kiss the passers-by. Here. Hear the sounds of their step. Pound their hearts with the aura of your love. Watch the waves of ochre sound.

They love you and they need you and they don’t know you exist.

You walk through them. Your blood cells and theirs shake hands. You kiss every forehead. You own ever fiber of their suits and their jewelry. You own every crowd. You are a harvester of chaste souls, of buttery blood vessels.

You are what you need them to think you to be. You are something I see without you seeing me.

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Ueno Park Son—October, 1988▲

Urban poem

Rudy went to the gas station

bought three gallons

went home

lit a match

and burned.

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These poems and photographs were originally exhibited at Lehigh University in the Spring of 1989. More recently, the photographs were published in 2008 in issue 57 of Giant Robot magazine and on Scholars and Rogues in August, 2011.

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